Hafsa Oubou

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Northwestern U.

Grant number

Gr. 9838

Approve Date

April 30, 2019

Project Title

Oubou, Hafsa, Northwestern U., The Making of a Neutral Teacher of Islam: The Politics of Neutrality, Religion, and Education in Belgium, supervised by Dr. Katherine Hoffman

My dissertation project investigates the contentious debate around the role of teachers of Islam in Belgium, who are implicitly positioned on the frontline of the battle against the “radicalization” of Belgian youth of Muslim heritage after the 2016 attacks. Following the attacks, media discourse immediately focused on youth and public education, pointing the finger at the instructors of Islam, along with imams (prayer leaders) for youths’ radicalism. Media attacks on teachers concentrated on their alleged failure to teach neutrality, a central concept in the Belgian Constitution, and the democratic values of le vivre ensemble, or co-existence, a popular expression in the European francophone region. The teaching of Islam suddenly became a contentious enterprise rather than evidence of co-existence, as the attacks signaled a “trigger” moment that put teachers on the frontline of combatting radicalism and ensuring well-integrated Muslim “Belgianness.” This ethnographic project explores the ways teachers of Islam in Belgian public schools engage co-existence and neutrality both in their pedagogical training and in classroom teaching. Using ethnographic methods, I am particularly interested in uncovering how and why the politics of teaching or not teaching religion, specifically Islam, in schools in francophone Belgium have been controversial to democratic liberal secular governance.